Several days ago, while rummaging in my refrigerator for something for my culinary assistant and me to have for a quick bite, I found leftover slices of smoked salmon, a small package of creamy goat cheese and a bunch of partially used dill. On a kitchen counter, there was a loaf of country-style crusty bread in a bread basket.
It didn't take me long to figure out that we could make ourselves delectable sandwiches with such enticing ingredients. At first, we were going to assemble open-face sandwiches, but then it dawned on us that grilling them, as Italians do when making their celebrated panini, would be even better. So we pulled out the grill pan, and in no time at all were biting into rich, golden, toasted sandwiches layered with ivory goat cheese, coral-hued salmon and deep green dill sprigs. Not only were these colorful panini visually inviting, they were impressive palate-pleasers as well.
I was so delighted with the results that I immediately began to contemplate ways to use these sandwiches when entertaining. It occurred to me that when my husband and I have weekend company, I am always looking for something a little different to serve for lunch or a light supper and often prepare soup and sandwich meals for such occasions.
These Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Panini, which take only minutes to put together and to grill, would be perfect for such times. A light tomato soup or a winter zucchini soup would complement them admirably. Or you could accompany the sandwiches with a watercress and cucumber salad or with one composed of mixed greens and sliced red onions. Lemon bars or chocolate chip cookies, either homemade or bought at a good bakery, served with fresh fruit, would make a simple dessert.
Place 2 bread slices on work surface and spread even, thin layer of goat cheese on each. Top 1 slice with 2 salmon slices, then drizzle with 1/2 teaspoon lemon juice and generously season with pepper. Arrange 1 tablespoon dill sprigs over salmon. Top with remaining bread slice (cheese side down). Brush outside of sandwich generously with olive oil. Repeat to make 3 more sandwiches.
Lightly brush stove-top grill pan with olive oil and place over medium-high heat until hot. Place enough sandwiches to fit comfortably in single layer in pan, and grill, pressing down firmly with metal spatula to compress sandwiches, until undersides are golden-brown, about 2 minutes. Turn and cook on other side until golden-brown, 1 to 2 minutes more. Remove and continue until all sandwiches are cooked. (If you do not have grill pan, use large, heavy skillet and coat with thin layer of olive oil. Cook sandwiches in same way, adding more oil if needed.)
To serve, cut sandwiches on the diagonal and serve with additional sprigs of dill as garnish.
Smoked Salmon and Goat Cheese Panini
-inch-thick) slices country-style peasant bread
4 ounces creamy goat cheese
8 ounces sliced smoked salmon
2 teaspoons lemon juice
coarsely ground black pepper
1/4 cup fresh dill sprigs, plus extra for garnish
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil